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Heimat ist wo das Herz ist

Bonnie Kahn_water

Heimat ist wo das Herz ist. Home is where the heart is. From the 1800s to 1915, at least seven million people journeyed from their homeland to the United States by way of Bremen, Germany. The great-grandfather of Special Olympics USA assistant athletics coach Bonnie Kahn was one of them. Immigrating to the New World, he sailed from the port of Bremen to settle his legacy in lands unknown.

Using the Ancestry® online database, Bonnie’s sister began to compile the pieces of their family’s lineage this year, which was greatly impacted by a voyage from Bremen.

“She said, ‘Oh, our great-grandfather sailed out of a port called Bremen,’” said Bonnie. “I said, ‘It would be so cool if I could go there and just touch the water and feel that connection spiritually.’”

As chance would have it, the Special Olympics USA delegation was assigned to the Host Town locations of Bremen and Bremerhaven. The largest communal inclusion project in Germany’s history, the Host Town Program for the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 intends to foster a sense of togetherness through encounters that will resonate for years to come. Reaching back generations, Bonnie’s hand met the water. The same waters her great-grandfather once sailed away from, she returned to, feeling a trace of home. Immortalizing that moment through a photo, Bonnie constructs a bridge to a history long ago.

“Over seven million people have immigrated to the United States from Bremen to live a better life,” explained Uwe Papart, Bremen Secretary for Social Affairs, during a presentation to the Special Olympics USA delegation. “But there is even more that connects us. We are connected by the motivation to do sports and organize them for everyone.”

Familiar with that practice, Bonnie has spent much of her life making sports accessible to all. She has been active with Special Olympics Wisconsin for more than 30 years, coaching and serving on several Games Management Teams at the local level for athletics, bowling, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. After graduating with a degree in adaptive physical education, she initiated the Special Olympics program in Tomahawk, Wisconsin. Since, she has attended nine Special Olympics World Games, expanding her perspective on the inclusivity of sport around the world.

“Every time I go to a World Games, my Special Olympics family gets bigger,” said Bonnie. “I still keep in touch with a lot of them.”

An extraordinary sight, Bonnie has seen Bremen through the eyes of Special Olympics athletes. Tasting the cuisine, learning the phrases, meeting the people, the spirit of Special Olympics transcends borders, from homes across the United States to the heart of Bremen.

“Out of nine World Games, this Host Town has been one of the very best,” adds Bonnie. “There’s just something about this place and these people, it has been so welcoming.”

Separated by an expansive sea, the smallest state in Germany is forever connected to the enormity of the United States through humanitarian happenstance.

“We have had a close relationship since the end of World War II,” said Melf Grantz, Mayor of Bremerhaven. “Since, almost 200 million people have immigrated to the United States. Many of your compatriots have had an impact on this city. Therefore, we are thankful for your visit.”

Also thankful for the visit, Bonnie is grateful to have reconnected with a piece of her own home.